Cannon, William B., 1920-

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William B. Cannon (1920-2006) was a professor and administrator at the University of Chicago between 1954 and 1989. He was concurrently involved with national politics, active in the Bureau of the Budget during Lyndon B. Johnson's administration. Cannon was a key figure in the development of Johnson's "War on Poverty" policy, including the controversial Community Action Program implemented in 1964.

Cannon was born in Cascade, Iowa, where he completed a Catholic high school education. Cannon entered the University of Chicago in 1941, but his tenure as a student was interrupted by army service between 1943 and 1946. He received his undergraduate degree in 1947, followed in 1949 by a Master's in Political Science. Between 1954 and 1958 he served as the University's Director of Social Science Development and Assistant Vice President.

By the 1960s Cannon had moved into government administration, where he worked at the Bureau of the Budget. Between 1962 and 1965 he was Assistant Chief of the Office of Legislative Reference for Health, Education, and Welfare Programs. In 1965 he became Chief of the Bureau's Education, Manpower and Science Division, and two years later he was named Director of Operational Coordination and Policy Research. He was active on Presidential Task Forces on education in 1964 and 1967.

President Johnson's Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 instituted new structures for distributing federal resources and administering social welfare programs. Cannon was instrumental in developing the Community Action Program (CAP), which funded anti-poverty initiatives at the local level. Participating agencies were not required to justify their programs to civic or state departments. Although this was designed to ensure "maximum feasible participation" in the "War on Poverty," it created political tensions between the administration and local authorities, as mayoral offices accused Johnson of undermining federalism and politicizing the poor.

Cannon returned to the University of Chicago in 1968, serving as Vice President for Programs and Projects until 1974. He left Chicago for two years act to as Dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, but returned in 1976 when he became faculty at the School of Social Service Administration (SSA). Until 1984 he was also the University's Vice President for Business and Finance. He taught SSA courses on public policy until his retirement to Austin, Texas in 1989. Cannon remained involved in social welfare programs outside academia throughout his career, participating in nonprofit corporations such as the Youthwork Corporation.

As an academic, Cannon continued to be an outspoken Democrat and a believer in "maximum feasible participation of the poor." He felt the Reagan administration had destroyed the traditional alliance between the middle-classes and lower classes. In his New Class Politics (1986), he argued the Democratic Party should cease to compete for middle-class votes and turn their attention to counter-organizing the non-middle classes. By focusing on party organization at the local "club" level, Cannon hoped the American poor would develop a distinct political and electoral identity, eventually forming a dominant bloc in the Democratic Party which could push new policy directives. He continued to write on government policy through the Clinton administration.

Cannon died in 2006. He was survived by his four children, Julia, Dominic, William, and Robert.

From the guide to the Cannon, William B. Papers, 1963-1999, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn University of Chicago. Office of the President. Wilson Administration. Records, 1891-1978 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
creatorOf Cannon, William B. Papers, 1963-1999 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn University of Chicago. Office of the President. University of Chicago Office of the President, Wilson administration records 1891-1978 (inclusive). University of Chicago Library
creatorOf University of Chicago. Letters, 1948-1964, to Lewis Mumford. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith United States. Bureau of the Budget corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. Office of the President. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. School of Social Service Administration corporateBody
associatedWith Wilson, John T. (John Todd), 1914- person
Place Name Admin Code Country


Birth 1920



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SNAC ID: 48380886